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War in Ukraine: Kyiv faced with an upsurge in the use of gas by the Russian army

The Kyiv Prosecutor General's Office reports that, of the 626 attacks listed by the army, 64 cases of gas use, including CS tear gas, have been confirmed. Ukrainian authorities have remained mostly silent about Moscow's use of it on the front.

The lieutenant-colonel of a combat unit, back from the Bakhmut front, summed up the situation in a few words: "Gas is terror.

The subject is not really a military secret, nor completely taboo, but it is rarely raised by Ukraine: The Russian army is increasingly using combat gases, prohibited by the laws of war and international conventions, on Ukrainian battlefields.

Dmytro Klymenko

Dmytro Klymenko commands a support battalion, dubbed "Skelya" (Rock), of the first Ivan Bohun special forces brigade, and as such is responsible for its NRBC (nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical) unit. Like many officers in the Ukrainian army's support and medical forces, the lieutenantcolonel described a situation that is getting worse with each passing month. "There's been a clear upsurge in gas use since October [2023]. It started with grenades dropped by drones, and now it's also with artillery. Previously it was only against enclosed areas, such as a position in a trench or an armored vehicle, and now it's also in open terrain, with special shells that explode in the air, above the troops, and release gas.

Lieutenant-Colonel Klymenko claims to have had to rescue "a lot of wounded" and to have had "one dead" due to gas. "The dead man was actually a guy already wounded by shrapnel, but as we couldn't evacuate him for several hours, he was asphyxiated by gas in the trench." The aim of using gas is twofold: On the one hand, to force fighters out of a fortified position and then kill them with artillery or kamikaze drones; on the other, to put as many men as possible out of action – with each wounded man having to be evacuated by four comrades if he can no longer walk alone, making it easier to conquer a position.

The CBRN analysis center of the Ukrainian Army Support Forces Command agreed to disclose certain information. Since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, "626 gas attacks" have been recorded and "many more" are being investigated, according to Captain Dmytro Serhiyenko, the commander's assistant. Of the chemicals used, he confirmed only the use of CS tear gas, saying that other cases of chemical attacks are still being analyzed.

CS gas forbidden on a battlefield

CS is the tear gas most commonly used by law enforcement agencies around the world, but in addition to being used in a more concentrated and harmful way by Russian forces, it is prohibited on the battlefield. The laws of war prohibit substances used to incapacitate and then kill combatants. The captain describes it as "an irritating and incapacitating gas" causing "choking, vomiting, skin and eye irritation, and when highly concentrated, burns."

From the Convention with respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land (The Hague, 1900) to the Chemical Weapons Convention (Paris, 1997), via the Geneva Conventions on international humanitarian law (1949 and 1977), the international community has regulated and codified the use of this type of weaponry and munitions, and in most cases prohibited them. Russia, in addition to being a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, has o!cially complied with international law on chemical weapons since 2017.

Captain Serhiyenko claims that the use of gas by the Russian army has become "a common tactic" in recent months. He believes that this gas, originally available to police forces, "was previously only to be used by units under the Interior Ministry and the FSB, whereas it is now used by all army units."

"The Russians are even circulating user manuals on social media," he said. And the o!cer added that the gases are currently used "only on the front line" and not by artillery targeting rear towns and villages.

Vomiting and chest pain

At the Prosecutor General's office in Kyiv, the head of investigations, Yuriy Belousov, revealed that of the 626 attacks listed by the army, "64 cases of gas use have been confirmed" by his services, "almost always CS di" used by K-51 grenades." Belousov confirmed, "one death in March 2023 in the Donetsk region, by an unidentified gas." The head of investigations can't give any details, but a medical forces officer from a mechanized brigade present in the area at the time recalled the episode. "Our unit was attacked in position by a drone that dropped an unknown type of grenade. We ran outside. Two guys stayed behind us for two or three minutes, the time it took to retrieve bags, and were intoxicated. One was seriously injured and the second died. The dead man had pink skin and showed no signs of a heart attack. We took him to the Dnipro morgue and CBRN experts came to examine him, but I never heard back from the investigation.

At the first special forces brigade, currently resting in its home region of Zhytomyr, the head of the medical unit, Lieutenant Dmytro Migulev, confirmed that he received various gas casualties from the Bakhmut front at the Chassiv Yar stabilization point in November and December 2023. He described "irritation of the eyes and nose, vomiting, chest pain and very worrying blood pressure."

A gas-wounded soldier, Zoryan, from his nom de guerre "Dyed" (grandfather), 49, described an attack in December 2023 near Chasiv Yar. "A Russian drone first dropped a single grenade to make a hole in the fortified shelter and, a few minutes later, a second grenade with the gas. I didn't have time to put on my mask. The gas was visible, white, and the smell reminded me of garlic. It was hard to breathe, with a burning sensation in my lungs, and I was vomiting. I had tears in my eyes and could hardly see anything."

After his evacuation under chaotic conditions, with Russian drones continuing to strike his unit and several soldiers killed, Zoryan spent two weeks in hospital, where blood and urine were taken for analysis. The burning sensation subsided within a few days, but a month later he is still taking medication and "can't see as well as before."

Burned eyes

The number of testimonies of gas use along the front line is increasing. On the Avdiivka front, in the east of the country, a military doctor claimed that his battalion has been hit "three times a month since November [2023]."

On the Zaporizhzhia front in the south, a military first-aider recounted that her unit faced "gas attacks almost every day in November and December," with many wounded, including "one soldier [who] lost his sight for good, his eyes were burned." Then, while they continued to increase in recent weeks elsewhere on the front, gas attacks decreased in January in her area, "probably because the Russian units here had already sent everything they had at their disposal," she said.

Regularly mentioned on both Russian and Ukrainian social media, the use of gas by the Russian army is scarcely condemned by the Kyiv government, and strangely does not make headlines in Ukrainian media. Such silence about acts just as reprehensible as other violations of the Geneva Conventions, such as crimes against civilians or prisoners of war, exasperates soldiers in combat units.

"I don't understand why our government and the General Sta" aren't talking more about the use of gas," said the head of a military first-aid unit on the southern front on condition of anonymity. "I think it's simply because they only want to broadcast positive news from the front, as if everything were fine." Claiming to "hate the way the Ukrainian government communicates," he sees "a total discrepancy" between Kyiv's "festival of good news" and "the hell the fighters are going through every day."

An officer from a combat unit on the eastern front believes that "there is no strategic reason for the silence surrounding gas, the use of which is not even a secret," since it is regularly mentioned, in two lines, in official army communiqués. "I imagine the powers that be want to keep morale high, especially after a difficult year on the fronts and during a period of mobilization." For, as NRBC analysis center officer Captain Serhiyenko also believes, "the objective of gas is terror."


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